Bulls

Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

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Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 9:48 p.m. Updated 11:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Another night, another blue-collar victory for the Bulls (52-19), who outlasted a game Grizzlies (40-32) squad, 99-96, Friday evening at the United Center.

On a night when offense didnt come easy, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose came up big in the clutch, converting a traditional three-point play late in the game as part of the effort to stave off Memphis.

Korver on Rose: He's special

A win is the most important thing. My teammates, they had my back tonight. Shots that I would normally hit werent going for me tonight, said Rose, who struggled through a 6-for-22 game shooting from the floor, afterwards. Theres always going to be a night like that, but were playing against tough teams.

Towards the end, I just knew that I just had to make shots or make plays," he continued. "That was the biggest thing. Im trying to get better at the end, just being a closer. Im still trying to get there.

Deng unhappy with Bulls' effort

Clearly not in awe of the Bulls new status as darlings of the national media, the Grizzlies blitzed their hosts in the early going, jumping out to an 11-4 lead. Chicago native Tony Allen (13 points) led the visitors charge, as the Grizzlies swingman who played for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau when both were in Boston scored eight quick points on 4-for-4 shooting in the opening period.

While Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) was the only player who could effectively manufacture offense initially, a lack of touches during the teams drought affected him as well. Luckily for Chicago , Taj Gibson's (six points, seven rebounds) immediate impact off the bench sparked the home teams offense.

Meanwhile, Memphis got scoring from a variety of sources such as point guard Mike Conley (12 points, six assists) and another swingman, Sam Young their hot shooting cooled off toward the conclusion of the first quarter, which ended with the Bulls trailing slightly, 22-21.

They were the aggressor in the first quarter, Carlos Boozer observed. Once we got in the fight of the game, I thought we fought back great.

Chicagos second unit (affectionately known as The Bench Mob), usually relied upon to outplay the opposing reserves and thus either increase the starters lead, give the Bulls an advantage or get the team back in the game didnt make much initial progress in their nightly second-quarter pursuit, although rookie center Omer Asik (six points, five rebounds) again impacted the game with his always-high activity level, as did swingman Ronnie Brewer (seven points, four rebounds).

Tellingly, however, a C.J. Watson (five points, three assists) tumble beyond the court and into the courtside seats was perhaps the most buzzed-about moment of the reserves stint, prior to Thibodeau filtering in most of his regulars.

An antsy United Center crowd, unaccustomed to their now-first-place team playing in a lackluster fashion, displayed its dissatisfaction with both the officiating and the play on the court, as the excitable Allen continued to torment his hometown team and the Grizzlies gained confidence to go with their lead.

Late in the half, however, a double technical on power forwards Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds) and Zach Randolph (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) seemed to ignite the Bulls, resulting in a Deng-propelled comeback and a 49-46 halftime lead for Chicago, following a tough Rose (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) fall-away jumper with seconds remaining.

Weve got players that really like Derrick and Booz get a lot of attention, said Deng. Everyone else, weve got to be smart about what theyre trying to do early in the game and use that to our advantage.

Derrick does a good job of getting so much attention, its really just a matter of locking in and making your shot, he continued. I had open shots and Ive been shooting the ball well the last few games.

After the break, the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to underrated center Marc Gasol (14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), who responded by scoring proficiently in the low post. Rose began to assert himself offensively, but Memphis countered by utilizing Randolph, a highly-skilled post-up player, keeping the game a tight-knit affair.

Chicago, buoyed by Roses strong all-around play it wasnt one of his better shooting nights, however built a slight cushion, but the visitors refused to wilt, hanging tough despite Allen earning himself a technical foul.

Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to a 74-73 advantage. Led by reserve forwards Darrell Arthur (10 points) and Leon Powe (11 points) another of Thibodeaus former Celtics protgs Memphis kept battling, eventually overtaking the Bulls.

Now, it was time for Chicago to fight back and that they did, with Boozer as a catalyst, as the power forward controlled the boards and muscled in tough baskets on the interior, leading to the Bulls having the momentum in this see-saw battle heading down the stretch.

Defense was the Bulls saving grace late in the physical contest, as they came up with key defensive stops to prevent the Grizzlies from taking a lead in the final minutes. On the other hand, crucial turnovers plagued the home team, ensuring that they didnt have the opportunity to capitalize on their good work on the other end of the floor.

Thats how the playoffs are going to be. More than likely, thats how the playoffs are going to be called, said Boozer of the games atmosphere. Great test for our team.

Added Rose: Every game. Falling, tripping, getting fouled hard. Some calls and some no-calls. Weve just got to fight through it.

With under a minute left and holding a 95-93 lead, the Bulls forced a Memphis miss and after Allen, the boisterous Chicagoan, couldnt control the offensive rebound, the Bulls had possession with 30.2 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Rose took Allen off the dribble and finished at the basket with his left hand, drawing a foul in the process, giving the Bulls a 98-93 lead with 10.8 seconds remaining.

He jumped on my right hand, thinking I was going to drive right and I just saw a lane. Right when I saw it, I just tried to go in there hard and get contact. I got it and just tried to focus on making the layup, and it went in, Rose recounted. Id been missing bunnies the whole game. Id been missing layups, shots I normally hit. It feels good when a shot finally goes in.

Rose completed the three-point play, but after a timeout, Grizzlies sixth man O.J. Mayo rebounded a Memphis miss to knock down a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 98-96. Following a timeout, Rose was fouled on the ensuing possession, but split a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for the Grizzlies in a one-possession game.

Alas, Conleys final long-range attempt was short, giving Chicago the victory. Coupled with a Celtics loss, the Bulls increased their stranglehold on first place in the East to a two-game lead.

We get poised at the end of the game, said Boozer. Weve almost seen every scenario this season, so when the game got down to the wire, we were comfortable because we had already been there.

Sometimes it comes down to the last two or three minutes who wants it more? and we wanted it more.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.